Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Whole Lot of Butterfly Conservation

I suppose that after getting the new lab facility for butterfly breeding there's really no excuse for not breeding lots of rare butterflies. That has been happening all summer long, and I'm pretty pleased with the results.

Here Vincent and Jay are feeding silver-bordered fritillary caterpillars. This year, over 1,300 of them hatched from eggs that we collected in the lab. They are starting to pupate now. We will be trying to start a new population of this species up in McHenry County. Assuming we get the final permit, we will be trying to start a second population on a prairie restoration project in southwest Cook County. There are only two large populations of this species left in Illinois

Cages with silver-bordered fritillary larvae feeding on violet leaves

Gorgone Checkerspot Caterpillars Heading in to Hibernation

We're growing two types of checkerspot butterflies this year: the Gorgone Checkerspot and the Baltimore Checkerspot. Both species spend the winter as caterpillars. We have 555 Gorgone Checkerspot caterpillars and 1758 Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars. The caterpillars have stopped eating and are preparing to hibernate. Most of them will spend the winter on the museum roof. Next week, we will be releasing a bunch of the Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars to let them spend the winter in the wild. We are using them to create a new population on the grounds of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Long time readers will know that the most seriously imperiled species that we are working with is a little butterfly called the Swamp Metalmark. It's at significant risk of becoming extinct within my lifetime. We have struggled trying to breed enough in the lab to start a new population here in Illinois where it went extinct in the 1980s. The female in the cup above has been laying eggs for nearly a month now. We have a record 300+ caterpillars. The most that we have ever had prior to this year is 140. I will be holding my breath until we can get a lot of adults out of this species.

Swamp Metalmark

In general, I'm really pleased with our progress this year. For those of you keeping a tally, we have been working with 3,852 caterpillars so far this summer. We have had only one significant failure. In late June I stayed up until 3:00 AM collecting females of a rare prairie moth. It's a species we have never worked with before- and we got zero eggs (but at least we learned how not to collect eggs from this species). The fun isn't over. The first week in September, we will be collecting female regal fritillaries and trying to carry caterpillars from that species over the winter.

Regal Fritillary (photo: Ron Panzer)

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At 22:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This really is great work you're doing - I'm jealous!

What kind of permit(s) do you need to release a new population - something federal or just the permission of the landowner agency?


At 08:31, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Ted- Thanks. The required permit depends on the specifics of the site that we are releasing on and whether the species is formally designated as a threatened or endangered species by the state of Illinois. In the case of the Silver-bordered Fritillaries, the permit we are working on is from the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. The Baltimore Checkerspots at FermiLab require only a memorandum of understanding between myself and Fermi. That's my favorite permit, because it specifically says that I don't need time on the particle accelerator beam to do this work.

At 09:56, Blogger Texas Travelers said...

Great going. I can't express how fantastic I think this work is. Well done!!

Nice photos and thanks for sharing the update.


At 23:55, Blogger Floridacracker said...

Thank you for the work you do.

At 01:38, Blogger Marvin said...

Keep up the great work!

At 07:43, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so cool to watch, even vicariously.

BTW, If you need a student worker, I have a great kid that is interested in entomology. I highly recommend her!

At 12:56, Blogger Texas Travelers said...

I really like the 'metallic' threads woven into the metalmark wings. They show up well in this photo.

Two new posts at 'I C U Nature'

Eryngos and Argiopes.
Green Tree Frogs.

Come visit and tell us what you think,
Troy & Martha

At 15:12, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is fantastic, I had no idea this was going on in Illinois! I have a butterfly garden filled with native plants. I have Monarch cats arriving this week. The Monarchs aren't here this year, it's my small contribution to repopulate the area. Today I bought Turtlehead plants, as you know, a host plant for the BCS Butterfly.
I'm interested in becoming a volunteer. How can I get in touch with you? I'll check back everyday, is there an email address you can leave on here for me to contact you? I'm very sincere!


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